Tourism Minister Fatima Al Sairafi got off to a good start by arranging the very first consultative session between the ministry and private tourism stakeholders.
I had a lot of views; I discussed some of them at the session and I also posed a lot of questions.
At the meeting, a fundamental question came to mind: “Why does a tourist come to Bahrain?”
Although this question is straightforward the answer is not. Anyone familiar with tourism or who works in the industry would attest to that. No doubt, it is imperative to gain a thorough understanding of the factors that accurately reflect the reasons why visitors choose Bahrain. It will make us re-evaluate our priorities, introduce plans and programmes, and develop the industry appropriately.
Of course, there is no one right answer to this; other things like shopping, going to a party or event, visiting heritage sites, or conducting business may take precedence.
I would assert that identifying the priorities of the greatest number of visitors would influence our tourism trends. This would mean looking at whether we need to increase the number of festivals or retail centres, for instance.
However, the problem still exists because all these things can be found in other nations that compete with us for tourism. And they probably do so with greater diversity and at lower costs.
There are two options available to us: Replicate the tourism initiatives and events that these nations are putting on, but this may prevent us from receiving the full benefits we were hoping for.
The other solution is to innovate in providing a unique tourism product, that is only available in Bahrain.
This is the first task that the ministry employees should undertake; however, there is no harm in sharing ideas with the private sector.
One of the most distinctive characteristics of Bahrainis is their friendliness. This is in addition to their modesty, generosity, and manners when buying, selling, and interacting with tourists. This attracts a lot of tourists as well.
The expansion of Bahraini families in the Arabian Gulf states may be another advantage. Here, we can launch a tourist product in which we invite our people in the Gulf countries to visit their relatives here. Not just a family visit, but we design for them an integrated tourism programme. This could include camping, a sea trip, and Bahraini cuisine so that we guarantee them, and their hosts, a unique experience.
Some people could argue that Bahrain’s small geographical size makes it difficult to promote tourism. But I think this is a third “tourism advantage”. We can tell the tourists that when they come to Bahrain they will be able to try a lot of things without wasting time on the move.
They could choose to take a cruise in Muharraq in the morning and visit the museum and Bahrain Fort (Qal’at Al Bahrain) later. Have lunch, enjoy swimming, and recreational activities on the coast of Manama, then watch a race at the Bahrain International Circuit. Then they could attend a party or something elsewhere, and then wrap up the rest of the evening with friends. All of this in one day, and the following day begins with another busy programme that includes the mall, cinema, Block 338, and so on.
We must agree that the countries around us have become more successful in attracting tourists, including Bahraini tourists. Saudi Arabia, the main source of tourists arriving in Bahrain, has been experiencing a major openness since Saudi women were allowed to drive. This is besides the Riyadh activities and safaris in Alaa, the Assir mountain trips and others.
Just as we have overcome major challenges, most recently the Covid-19 pandemic, we can succeed in overcoming the challenge of promoting the tourism sector. We could then rely on this sector to generate more jobs for citizens and support the economy.